November 15, 2004
(Swans - November 15, 2004)
Passion, simple passion tightly held, overwhelms all in its path. And
there, I suggest, may be the answer to what happened November 2nd, 2004
in the once United States of America.
Among early Democratic hopefuls, Dean and Kucinich came forth passionately and failed in their quests. In their stead, the Democrats went for a dispassionate aristocrat, and went down. Much tattered and finally shattered reason embodied in nice guy me-too-ism succumbed.
In contrast, the key Bush strategist, Karl Rove, went for the gonads, ripping, tearing, clawing at the vitals of friend and foe alike. The friends of Bush in an orgiastic frenzy overwhelmed their occasionally partisan but ultimately weak-kneed opposition. Whether overwhelmed for cause or by chicanery is now quite irrelevant. Overwhelmed they are. Bludgeoned we are. Out for the count.
Last year I wrote a commentary on the much-alleged influence of Leo Strauss on those called "neo-conservatives." The hosts of neo-conservatives now sprinkled too liberally throughout America's government and media have condensed Straussian guidance to a simple formula: "Take power at any cost. Keep power at any cost."
Whether or not Strauss is needed for this purpose is a reasonable question. With or without Strauss, this side of American political life has put us down again.
Mark Blitz, a Straussian and now a professor at Claremont McKenna College in California, plucked a resonant string which runs throughout post-WWII conservative politics:
". . . anti-communism (and not amelioration), the virtue of individual responsibility (and not excessive social welfare), individual rights (and not affirmative action or feminism), market competition (and not excessive regulation or quasi-oligarchy) and educational and artistic excellence (and no 'politicization' or self-indulgence. . . ." (1)
Post-Eisenhower Republicans also became passionate in decrying the United Nations (no foreign influence on America or neo-isolationist), upholding states' rights (original meaning was to keep the federal government at bay), pay-as-you-go government (balanced budgets) and unbridled capitalism (now called globalization). I bet you can think of some other once-upon-a-time Republican mottos now beaten to dust.
With the Civil Rights era of the 1960s, Southern Democrats morphed into Southern Republicans. States' rights became code for holding off desegregation. Segregation and desegregation somewhat briefly fed the passionate of all persuasions. With time, the desegregation passions faltered before the murderous passions of their opponents. Leaders were struck down: the Kennedy brothers and Martin Luther King prominently assassinated. Others less well known, yet effectively removed through character assassination, financial ruin or denied opportunities, fell victim just as surely.
Johnson's domestic legislative initiatives fell victim. The War on Poverty was shoved aside by a real war in Vietnam. Nixon gutted the economic opportunity commissions. With Kissinger's urging and realpolitik rampant, the Vietnam War was prolonged for more years to end up about the same: ignominious defeat followed by another 40 years of sanctions and blockade attempting to destabilize postwar Vietnam.
However, a key strategy which was to guide succeeding Republican administrations took hold. The excesses of the Vietnam War drained the American treasury until the strings holding it together parted in 1971-72. America was technically bankrupt. International financial systems fell. The dollar was unpegged and gold set afloat. No funds could be diverted to social welfare, poverty relief, job training for jobs which didn't exist, affirmative action or equal rights for women.
Ford succeeded a disgraced Nixon to be succeeded by Jimmy Carter. Carter's time was marred fatally by not only the Iranian hostage crisis but also by high interest rates freezing investment, closing down housing markets, stifling white goods and auto installment sales, postponing job creation and fostering inflation as what money there was chased after low inventories. With attention diverted, the segregationists dragged and dragged and dragged steel shod boots to keep school doors closed, jobs lily-white, neighborhoods barred, women barefoot and pregnant, ghettoes secured.
Reagan arrived with military budgets to drive deficits deeper, eyes closed to discriminations, union-busting as goal and deification as reward. G. H. W. Bush took over to keep the lids in place, engineered a war or two to distract attention and use the tools of black government to weigh upon the world. Called "wimp" for being soft on taxes, the passionate Republicans pulled away from him in 1992.
Clinton, a paradox of a man, yet intent on bringing a degree of balance back to governance, slogged through honing federal spending primarily at the expense of social programs and taking advantage of prosperity in the dot.com era to create federal surpluses projected into the trillions of dollars.
Clinton outraged the passionate among Republicans sufficiently to energize them to take power at any cost in 2000. With George W. Bush anointed president, the neo-conservatives rolled out their long shelved programs. Find a war to absorb all loose dollars, slash taxes, crash environmental safeguards, clamp down social programs, inflame the sore spots of the world and give Ariel Sharon a blank check in Israel.
Karl Rove, strategist par excellence, having taken power at any cost, worked passionately to keep power at any cost. He dove for the bowels to find and claim the darkest of passions. He wrapped his man, George W. Bush, in them. He paid no attention to the middle-of-the-road perhaps undecided concerns. As far as Rove is concerned, ain't no such thing as a moderate Republican. He drove the passions of evangelical Christians united in hatred of women, homosexuals and secular orientations. He snarled and snapped and lunged at liberals. He overwhelmed reason, experience, allies and once-friends of America with passions.
With passionate lusts unleashed, the dogs ran loose. Their rabid frothings infected more than we imagined. With only blue fringes to show, the center of continental America is solidly red (now code for rabid and passionate Republican).
The irony is that now-defeated communism was also red. Wilhelm Reich noted that political orientations were not, in fact, a linear progression from right to left, conservative to liberal, but rather circles with the tiniest of separations between red fascists and black fascists. He noted further that repressed sexuality inflamed passions, it displaced passions to hatreds always primal in quality. All that is presently missing are Nuremberg rallies.
What will it take to ignite the passions of Americans to demand and to defend their shrinking freedoms? Can we ever be passionate about seeking light rather than darkness? Can openness, diversity, expansion ignite our fires?
· · · · · ·
Note & Resources
1. "Leo Strauss, the Straussians, and the American Regime," Kenneth L. Deutch and John A. Murley, editors, in Mark Blitz, Government Practice and the School of Strauss, P. 439 ff., Bowman and Littlefield, 1999, ISBN 08-476869-22
"The Closing of the Straussian Mind," by Mark Lilla in the 11/04/04 New York Review of Books, pps 55 ff. Uses two recent books by Straussians as a basis for his cogent commentaries. (back)
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